Is There a Market for Foldable PCs?

Last week, I attended a Lenovo customer event in Orlando, FL where they introduced the fist foldable PC. I had a chance to play with it and it is a very solid product for what is deemed a prototype.

It was developed by Lenovo’s Yamato, Japan team, who created the stellar ThinkPad line of laptops. They are extremely well made and a top seller for Lenovo. I have visited this Yamato lab and am very aware of their skills and the quality of products that come from this group. Prototypes on average are normally mere shells of what they can eventually be. But this one looked close enough to ship, which is to say it was well made and very sturdy already.

There are some things that still need to be done at the hardware level before Lenovo ships their foldable PC and, the kind of software needed to really make this new PC design sing and dance, is still a ways out. Anytime we get a breakthrough product you can expect their prices to be very high at first. This will be a premium product and will be executive jewelry for tech big shots and focused on highly mobile pro’s who want something that is light weight, highly portable and when opened, gives them a 13-inch screen.

This is the first really new design in laptops since the 2 in 1’s were introduced 10 years ago. One cautionary note is that even today, 2 in 1’s are not big sellers and never became the big hit that Intel and Microsoft hoped they would be in the future.

A foldable PC may hit a nerve with some highly mobile workers who can afford them, but if history is our guide, they these new form factors may be more niche based products than ever gaining mainstream mobile computing status.

That said, the Lenovo foldable PC is so well designed that as the first major brand to bring one to the market, they could have a hit for themselves in two areas. First, they will be able to ride this great design towards securing themselves as one of the most innovative companies in the PC Business.

Second, if they put strong marketing behind it, their foldable PC could help set the tone for other PC makers to follow suit and create innovative designs of their own that might help popularize this new PC form factor.

Notebook and laptop clamshell designs have been pretty static since they were introduced in 1985. They have become thinner and lighter and more powerful, but the clamshell design has stayed pretty steady since they debuted.

Microsoft’s Surface portable brought the tablet PC combination to the market and shook up notebook designs and help expand the concept of 2 in 1’s that are now made by all PC vendors. While not big sellers, it did shake up the laptop computer market with a new form factor and some people swear by them and use products like the surface as their primary laptop computer.

Now a foldable PC has been introduced into the portable computing genre and Lenovo and other PC vendors who are working on similar products, hope it can gain traction as a new portable computing design that hits a nerve for some users. While they are excited about these new foldable PC’s, they know full well that it will never be as popular as traditional clamshells.

As one who has tracked the PC markets since its inception, I personally love the various experimentation that has been done on laptops over the years. We have had 3D- based laptops, laptops with side bars that hold speakers and many others that tried to push the deign of laptops in new directions.

Yet, consumers continue to vote for the traditional clamshell designs, and have made them the workhorse for productivity, education and for all types of consumer use. So, any new form factor trying to break the hold clamshells have on mainstream users will have an uphill battle.

Published by

Tim Bajarin

Tim Bajarin is the President of Creative Strategies, Inc. He is recognized as one of the leading industry consultants, analysts and futurists covering the field of personal computers and consumer technology. Mr. Bajarin has been with Creative Strategies since 1981 and has served as a consultant to most of the leading hardware and software vendors in the industry including IBM, Apple, Xerox, Compaq, Dell, AT&T, Microsoft, Polaroid, Lotus, Epson, Toshiba and numerous others.

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